When the Miami Heat lost to the Chicago Bulls in overtime a week ago, it was supposed to be the virtual end of their push for first place in the Eastern Conference and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. Instead, it's still very much up for grabs, and the Heat will fight to keep their hopes of the top seed alive on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, TNT). The Bulls shockingly lost at home to the Washington Wizards on Monday while the Heat have won four straight since last week's loss to Chicago. The gap between the two teams on top of the East is 2 1/2 games.
If the Bulls win on Thursday, they would have to lose out to avoid winning the conference. They have tough games remaining against the Dallas Mavericks and Indiana Pacers, but they close the season at home to the young, inexperienced and tankerrific Cleveland Cavaliers. Miami only faces one game against a playoff team in their final four, when they go away to play the Boston Celtics.
In last week's game between these two teams, Derrick Rose returned from injury but looked very much off the pace and sat for most of the fourth quarter. In his absence, C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver stepped up, putting in stellar performances off the bench. Korver was 5-6 from behind the three-point line in the game, while Watson hit the game-tying three-point shot to force overtime. In the OT period, the Heat couldn't buy a basket and the Bulls went on to win 96-86.
LeBron James went to the free throw line with 11 seconds remaining in that game, his team up by two points at the time. He missed his first free throw, which gave the Bulls a chance to force overtime. Just four seconds before that trip to the line, he missed an open 19-foot jump shot that would have had the same effect as making both free throws had it gone in.
Even though Chicago has beaten the Heat without Rose on one occasion this season and without Rose at his best just a week ago, they'll be hoping to have him available for Thursday night's game. He's a game-time decision with an ankle injury, and he's not the only one. Luol Deng, who has missed the Bulls' last two games with injured ribs, is also a game-time decision. The Heat have no such health issues, and they made Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh healthy scratches on Wednesday night to ensure that they would be 100 percent for this game.